At the beginning of the year I signed up to the Australian Women Writers Challenge. To meet my chosen level, the Miles, I had to read at least six books by female Australian authors and review at least four. Just for the hell of it, I added a mental note: they couldn’t all be speculative fiction.
The result is a list of books that have alternately intrigued, annoyed, charmed and definitely challenged me. Almost all fell outside my usual comfort zone.
The majority, of course, were either fantasy or science fiction, but even those stretched me; neither Margo Lanagan’s sinister fairy tale Sea Hearts nor Meg Mundell’s dark Australian dystopia Black Glass were easy reads, while Pamela Freeman’s Ember and Ash was traditional fantasy, which I’ve drifted away from in recent years. Even Tales from the Tower, a collection of fairy tale retellings edited by Isobelle Carmody, was full of confronting surprises.
Also included on the list are two works of contemporary/women’s fiction – the intergenerational murder mystery Poet’s Cottage by Josephine Pennicott and family saga Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman – plus a biography, Memoirs of a Showgirl,by Shay Stafford. None are books I’d normally gravitate towards; all gave me fresh perspectives into unfamiliar worlds.
Then there are the books I’ve read but not reviewed. Tehani Wessely of FableCroft Publishing released the anthology One Small Step in May, while Liz Grzyb edited Dreaming of Djinn for Ticonderoga and co-edited The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror with Talia Helene. As I have stories included in all three, I’m not exactly impartial, but they are collections I’m delighted have on my shelf and some less biased reviews can be found here and here. To everyone who said nice things about my stories, you are lovely and it was very much appreciated!
I am proud to have worked with such talented women, and proud to be a part of this industry. The stories I have read this year have been vastly varied, intelligent, and original. They are stories that should be told, and read, and talked about. I don’t really believe in the idea of ‘the great Australian novel’, because that means something different to everyone, as it should. This country is too big to be contained all inside one book. To encompass it all you need a library, an ever-changing map of stories, overlapping, interlocking, with signposts to guide us from reassuring waters to alien depths and back again by the scenic route.
I’m not done with my Challenge yet. My To Read list for 2014 includes books by Patricia Wrightson and Kate Forsyth, Kate Morton and Kimberley Freeman, experimenting with authors already known and admired, and those as yet unknown. That is, after all, the point of the Challenge: to start looking for these authors, and not stop.
There are remarkable women out there telling stories that should be heard. And I have reading to do.